Last week, I was teaching a course that included Adobe Flash animations to illustrate how to operate the machine that was the subject of the training. The course was to include practical sessions with the machine itself, but since it wasn’t ready, we thought about providing laptops with the animations for the participants.
I had read about the Chromebook, a really inexpensive ($200) laptop that basically serves as a platform to run the Chrome Web browser. It looked cool, and I’m a sucker for small, cool-looking, inexpensive laptops. I bought one.
It ran the Adobe Flash machine animations just fine. I could access them from the Web, or store them on the Chromebook’s hard disk. It has a practical advantage over the Windows 8 laptop that I bought for my business (and wrote about in these pages at the end of the year) in that it has a 15-pin VGA connector to attach an external monitor.
But now that the class has finished, what else can I do with it?
And that’s where the bottom dropped out.
My first requirement is an e-mail client. I have a half-dozen e-mail addresses. My primary laptop can collect them. My Android phone and tablet can collect them. But for the Chromebook, apparently, I’m supposed to use Google’s Gmail. That’s it. There are services that will aggregate my e-mails (for an ongoing fee) and make them available at one spot, or send them to Gmail. But an actual e-mail client that stores one’s missives locally is apparently not part of the program.
Rummaging around, I found that there was a group making a version of Ubuntu Linux that runs on the Chromebook. After some hesitation about turning my charming little laptop into a brick, I plunged ahead.
The process is relatively painless: I didn’t have to open up the laptop, and it was mostly waiting for the software to download.
Now the little machine not only has a proper e-mail client, but also can open Microsoft Office documents (not the full Office, to be sure, but good enough to take a peek), and can run Linux networking tools. (And yes, it can still run the Flash machine animations that I started with.) And I never have to bother with Gmail again. (Unless I want to: the original Chrome OS is still there, on a separate disk partition.)
Not bad for $199….